Happy Birthday today to Mary Wilson, wife of the late Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who is 100 today and no doubt has received a rather special telegram from the Queen.
It was said that Mary Wilson always expected to be the wife of an Oxford don, rather than, as it turned out, having to endure the media spotlight as the spouse of a prime minister, and sometimes a highly unpopular one too. Still, the Mary Baldwin who married Harold Wilson in 1940 has certainly had a long life, much of it given selflessly to public service.
We can only assume that it was not all bad, though her studied silence and low profile ensured her own views on politics, her marriage and husband remained firmly private. She confined herself to the publication of two volumes of poetry (admired by her friend, Sir John Betjeman, who wrote a touching poem about a visit they planned to her birthplace, Diss in Norfolk).
As PM, Wilson had a difficult time holding country and party together in times that were, in many ways, much harder than today. He was little thanked at the time, and his reputation has yet to recover. Yet David Cameron is about to pull off exactly the same trick with a renegotiation on membership of Europe, and subsequent referendum, as Wilson did in 1975.
Mary Wilson was not too happy with life as a “political” wife. It was this detachment which gave the Private Eye spoof Mrs Wilson’s Diary, the supposed diary of Mary Wilson, written in the style of the BBC’s daily radio serial Mrs Dale’s Diary, a spurious look of authenticity. Later in life Mrs Wilson looked after an increasingly frail husband, his once prodigious memory diminished. The Wilsons, in sharp contrast to some of their successors, profited little from their time in Downing Street, and lived relatively modestly throughout their lives. So we wish her a happy birthday, and thank her for her quietly dignified contribution to our national life.
Having passed her 99th birthday in January 2015, Mary Wilson is the oldest living spouse of a former British Prime Minister, the last to have lived twice at separate periods as wife of a serving Prime Minister, and the longest lived Prime Minister’s spouse on record. Harold Wilson established the Labour Party in 1964 as a credible party of Government after 13 years of Tory Government since Clement Attlee lost the 1951 General Election. the party and the country owe him a great debt. Like all elected Labour Prime ministers, Clement Attlee, Jim Callaghan and Tony Blair he transformed Britain for the better and was reviled and abused by the sectarian Left.
Our gratitude to this great Labour politician and leader is shared with his wife to whom we send warm birthday wishes.
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” – Harold Wilson
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